apply to the defending world champions here in Qatar.
True, there was a time in the 2000s when an imperious Zidane-helmed Les Bleus was the gold standard in world football, but while the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, this current generation’s indomitable spirit and quiet grit bears more resemblance to a German model of recent yore than their own original masters.
The one little thing, however, that sets the two apart, apart from the terrifyingly direct and effective methods of Kylian Mbappe, is that little spectre of implosion that Didier Deschamps’s men bring to themselves.
True, Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann, the two German legends of the 1990s couldn’t apparently stand the sight of each other after a point, but that was at Bayern ‘Hollywood’ Munich and it seldom seemed to affect the Mannschaft. In contrast, differences among the stars in the Les Bleus ranks, much of it being in the public domain, could hurt their campaign.
Furthermore, history is against them.
Since 2002, when their own team sparked off an unflattering trend, all defending champions have exited at the group stage itself. While a spate of injuries has robbed proven stars of their place, they have thrust others into the first XI mix.
Meet Adrien Rabiot, the tall, ever-running midfield mop-up man in here, a shoo-in here for a starting spot after Paul Pogba and N’ Golo Kante were ruled out injured. More famously, it was Rabiot’s mother, Veronique, who brawled openly with Pogba and Mbappe’s family in the Parc de Princes VIP stands, alleging that the two superstars didn’t apply themselves more effectively as France were knocked out by Switzerland in the Euro semifinals.
(France midfielder Adrien Rabiot during a press conference – AFP Photo)
It brought to the fore the divisions in the France camp, the simmering racial tensions, the cliques and the personality clashes, and after the return of Karim Benzema to the French equation — after a banishment of over five years and after a word by Zidane no less — last year, Deschamps has more creases on a permanently worried-looking face.
Yet, on Friday, Rabiot was promising to repose the faith Deschamps is putting on him.
“The coach has found the right words to describe me as a balanced player,” he said, “We have to stay united so that we don’t look outside for things to evolve in serene fashion. We were eliminated early in Euros so we have to correct that.”
Clearly, the Euros exit, the manner of it, has rankled. Even a fine Nations League victory over a young, talented Spain side has not assuaged matters. The mother’s argument in the stands has overshadowed a lot of things. It may just have helped that both Rabiot and Pogba currently find themselves at the same club, Juventus, after leaving PSG and Manchester United respectively.
Rabiot took the elephant head on.
“I see Pogba every day (at Juventus) and we have been speaking about it. He has been very encouraging and following the progress.”
The midfielder is thankful for the opportunity opening up.
“I’m capable of playing at different positions. The most important thing is to play. It’s my first World Cup so there is a certain amount of pressure but it’s not overbearing,” he said, “It’s a big challenge and it’s great to be able to defend the title. Going to the final won’t be an easy task. But we have the opportunity to do something special.”
Words that one would normally associate with a certain German model of the 1990s.